The 50-50 Cocktail Is a Miracle of Modern Mixology

Two-ingredient cocktails made with equal proportions. What’s not to love?

February 9, 2021 9:00 am
50-50 cocktail
Your 50/50 cocktail will probably be an equal mix of amaro and a spirit (like mezcal)
Photo illustration by Mike Falco

Everyone loves to talk about the three-ingredient cocktail — it’s so easy to remember! And, in particular, the category includes negronis, which is enough satisfaction for most people.

We can do one better. Or, one less: the 50/50, or a cocktail of just two ingredients of equal measurements.

I first discovered one of these deliciously simple combinations on a random late Sunday night sojourn to a bar near a hotel in Baltimore, where I stayed for all of 12 hours. Rye Fells Point was about to close, but I was cajoled into trying an Expat, a 50/50 mix of a mezcal and Sfumato, an herbal and smoky rhubarb amaro.

I was supposed to have it as a shot paired with a milk stout — the mezcal having the salinity to cut through that dark and rich ale while still complimenting the overall flavors of the shot. Instead, I sipped it; the drink was that memorable. 

“The amaro has a smoky quality, and pair with a mezcal and you’ll get more of that plus some chocolate notes,” says Rye’s Perez Klebahn, who explains that the shot was actually born out of a need to create a less boozy “bartender’s handshake” (which is just normally a friendly shot of booze offered to a fellow barkeep as a token of camaraderie). 

“It’s almost like a mini cocktail,” adds Klebahn. “Also, it’s a really quick way to get a drink out.” Bonus: There’s no mixing, and no actual measurements — it’s just free pouring two equal amounts.

“50/50s are great in this sense because they generally combine a higher-proofed spirit with something lower proof like an amaro, vermouth or liqueur,” adds Gabrielle Partridge of the Chug-a-Lug Wagon (a very cool “wandering bar collective”). “It’s encouraging because it means we’ve moved past the mindset of ‘let’s just get drunk’ into ‘let’s actually sip, savor and enjoy our cocktails.’”

The Amezcaro is mezcal and amaro, a common 50/50 trend
Courtesy of Deena Sayers

That said, don’t think restricting your ingredients to two makes this easier to come up with your own. “Creating the recipe for a 50/50 is hard work,” admits Deena Sayers of New York’s Drinks By Deena, a bar and beverage consulting company. “Most flavors don’t compliment each other when restricted by equal parts and no other supporting ingredients.”

Her suggestion: 1.5 oz Doña Vega Espadin mezcal, 1.5 oz Averna amaro and 1 dropper of cardamom bitters, added to a tall mixing glass with ice, stirred and strained into a martini or coupe glass.

Some more of our favorite recipes that belong to this wonderfully minimalist and ingredient-equitable category …

The mezcaletti substitutes Meletti (a liqueur with saffron and anise notes) for Sfumato while also adding bitters and a lemon twist

Joan Percival of Omaha’s Proof Whiskey and Craft Cocktails suggests the Parisiano, an equal, stirred mix of 1.5 oz Suze and 1.5 oz. Dolin dry vermouth (also add a lemon twist). 

bartenders handshake
The LA Bartender’s Handshake mixes Fernet Branca Menta and mezcal
Courtesy of Gabrielle Partridge

Partridge’s “L.A. Bartender’s Handshake” is a mix of 1 oz. Fernet Branca Menta and 1 oz. mezcal. “This has everything you need to either awaken you palate before a meal or serve as a digestif afterward. It’s got the smoke and grassy notes from the mezcal and the herbal menthol flavors.”

Via VC Moonstone of Vermont’s Murdock’s On The Green replaces mezcal with whiskey. The Godfather is 2 oz. each of Wild Turkey 101 and Amaro Nonino, served over ice.

Stalks and Bonds
Courtesy of Jesse Peterson

While I don’t go for a “wet” or vermouth-heavy martini, others are more than willing to equal out the vodka and vermouth. And this one involves a little work: for the Stalks & Bonds, Jesse Peterson of San Diego’s Morning Glory suggests 1.5 oz Broken Shed Vodka, 1.5 oz Castelvetrano olive-infused dry vermouth, 2 dashes celery bitters and 1 pinch pink sea salt. Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Stir with block ice, then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with fennel fronds & olive oil droplets. 

The H/X
The H/X: vodka or gin with ice wine
Courtesy of Rachael Robbins

Rachael Robbins, a New Jersey-based bartender and cocktail consultant, suggests The H/X, which combines 2 oz vodka or gin with 2 oz of ice wine. “The ice wine, when chilled and cut with vodka or gin, it loses the over-sweetness, but maintains the delicious intense concentrated grape flavor,” she says. Garnish with a cheese flight to wow your guests (when they’re invited over safely in 2022).

Gabriel Figueroa, the Assistant Restaurant Director at Vestry, meanwhile, suggests making a 50/50 with Rocky’s, a botanical liqueur inspired by clarified milk punch. Combine equal parts Rocky’s with vodka, gin, tequila or white rum, then stir and serve up or over ice. 

Happy coupling.


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